Since I was young, I have possessed an undying love for history. Much of my childhood was spent in museums, devouring books about history, or roleplaying as medieval knights with friends in the playground. When I discovered gaming, this love for all things historical influenced what games I chose to play.
To this day, I still own a sizeable stack of hard-copy historical games for PC that I accumulated during weekend trips to charity shops throughout my childhood. These include iconic classics including Age of Empires II and Pharaoh. One game in this stack, however, received infinitely more playtime than the others. On my dad’s now ancient and dusty desktop, I buried hour after hour into the first of the Crusader Kings series, kindling an immense love for Paradox Interactive’s historical grand strategy games that persists to this day.
Every title within this grand strategy series incorporates several standard features. You play on an interactive map covering different areas of the world, at a different period in history. Once you’ve selected a country, you are tasked with managing the economic, military and diplomatic affairs of that nation. The Crusader Kings games focus on the medieval period with the vanilla game starting in 1066 and ending just before the fall of Constantinople in 1452. The games brilliantly capture the court intrigue, mysticism, religious conflicts, and devastating plagues that dominated this fascinating period in history, helping make it a real masterpiece of both the strategy and historical game genres.
A key thing to note about Crusader Kings and the other Paradox grand strategy games is they are excruciatingly difficult for new players because of the many detailed elements of your nation you control. I dread to think just how bad I was at this game when I was seven, considering I struggle to this day to play a successful run-through. What would have brought me back time and time again, despite the constant crushing defeats and bankruptcies I inevitably faced, was just how funny and surreal it can often be.
I found myself engaging in countless affairs, assassinating infertile spouses and remarrying to produce that heir that I so desperately desired
While most of the other Paradox grand strategy series places the primary emphasis on statecraft and empire-building, Crusader Kings allows the player to jump straight into the shoes of a ruler and manage their personal lives as well as the affairs of your domain. In other series, the game ends when you lose all your land. In Crusader Kings, it ends when your dynasty dies out. The focus, therefore, is on the growth and enrichment of your character’s dynasty and ensuring its continued survival by producing an heir. In my hours of playing Crusader Kings, I found myself engaging in countless affairs, assassinating infertile spouses and remarrying to produce that heir that I so desperately desired.
Crusader Kings II released in 2012 and is undoubtedly my favourite sequel in any video game series. It took everything that I loved from the first game while adding much more. It also wholly throws any semblance of realism out of the window and creates a gaming experience that makes me laugh every time I play it. I’ve joined a secret society of Devil worshippers and had a child with Satan himself. I’ve had my kingdom invaded by Aztecs, and I’ve converted to Hellenism and restored the Roman Empire. I’ve even become immortal.
All in all, Crusader Kings II feels like the much more dynamic, fun and rebellious son of the realist, serious and wise original Crusader Kings.
Though I remain eternally grateful to Crusader Kings for providing me with hours upon hours of enjoyment growing up, when I play it now, I find myself yearning to play its sequel and all the madness and fun associated with it.
Later this year the third game in the series is set to be released, and I can’t wait to see what direction this instalment takes this incredible series in. Crusader Kings II is currently available to download for free on Steam, and you can always pick up its countless DLCs for just a few pounds in Steam sales.
This incredible series can turn even the purest and most wholesome person into someone willing to do whatever it takes to gain power and cement their dynasty’s legacy, even if that does mean committing murder, adultery or incest. I cannot recommend it enough.